Shukri al-Kuwatli

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Early life

Shukri al-Kuwatli (in Arabic: شكري القوتلي) was born in Damascus, Syria in 1891. As soldier of the Levantine Ottoman Force he participated in the Battle of Meggido (September 1918) where Ottoman Turks suffered a defeat caused by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under Edmund Allenby command. There he saw Arabs from Levant under ottoman command fighting against Egyptian Arabs under FK command. This made he feel that this war wasn’t a matter of arab interests but a war of foreign interests where Arabs were just like puppets. After the First Great War was over there was a rebellion of Armenian and Kurds, in 1920. These were forced to march to their co-nationals countries while Syrians were allowed to stay in Turkey. But few after Syria itself was proclaimed its independence (July 1920) having as new ruler Sultan Abdullah bin Hussayn, a brother of King Faisal I of Hijaaz and future king of Iraaq. Al-Kuwatli wasn’t pleased to see Syria with a pro-Hashemite monarch. Hashemite dynasty was too close to european interests. Al-Kuwatli was forced to go to exile in Egypt where he met several pan-arabists living in Alexandria. Here he concluded that Pan-Arabism should be secular as long among the Arabs there is Moslem of several factions, Christians, Druze, etc. He just returned in 1932 after a general amnesty proclaimed by the first president of Syria Hashim al-Atassi who on that year overthrow the sultan and proclaimed the republic.

Route to power

In 1932 al-Kuwatli joined the Syrian National Block, a nationalist political party close to al-Atassi. Al-Kuwatli gradually rose in its ranks becoming the president’s protégé. Al-Atassi resigned from presidency in 1939 being succeeded by the unpopular Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar, close to french interests, in an election made by the parliament. Lots of objections followed to this new president and his situation was going to be unsustainable as the Syrian National Block made a strong campaign against external influences among the population. Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar was forced to resign after his party lost parliamentary elections of 1943 leaving him without support at Parliament. With the support of the Syrian National Block and other smaller nationalist parties al-Kuwatli was easily elected new president.

President of Syria

Levantine Arab Republic: a proposed flag for a proposed state

Al-Kuwatli started nationalist policies and granted the total neutrality of Syria at the Second Great War as Lebanon didn't turn in favor to Ethiopia as it was feared. For him this was once again a war strange to Arabs. In 1944 he invited the Lebanese to merger with Syria to form a new political entity called the Levantine Arab Republic, but Lebanese president (the Sunni Khayreddin al-Ahdab who had pan-arabist sympathies), was forced to refuse it due to massive demonstrations mostly from the Christian community as they were afraid that much smaller Lebanon and its "Lebanese identity" would be absorbed and aniquilated by much bigger and Moslem Syria. Although this failure al-Kuwatli didn’t give up his pan-arabist dream. To protect the arab interests in a world at war he contacted all governments of the independent arab states thinking in creating an organisation where common interests could be discussed and protected. Also he organised several conferences in Damascus where nationalist intellectuals, politicians and people in general interested in pan-arabist policies could gather thinking in a possible future organisation which should unite all arab independent states for common purposes.

Parliament re-elect him in 1948. On the 22nd March 1949 he joined with the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Hijaaz, Iraaq, Maghreb, Kuwayt and a representative from the Bedouin Free State to sign the Treaty of Alexandria which established the Arab Community. But he wasn’t able to return Syria as a pro-arab snorist military coup d’etat deposed him on the 30th March 1949. For the second time in his life al-Kuwatli was forced to be exiled.

For the next years he stayed in Egypt hoping to return to his country and for a chance to regain his lost position. He followed with much interest the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser and his policies which influenced his political opinions. In Syria a series of coups turned its political life paralysed.

The United Arab Republic

Finally in 1955 al-Kuwatli was able to return for free presidential elections. He was once again candidate and won. Again as president he started reforms much influenced by Nasser’s policies: land reform to grant support from common people, nationalisations of foreign companies which were took by Syrian bourgeoisies to grant support from higher classes, lots of public works to fight unemployment among many others.

Following common pan-arabist policies al-Kuwatli and Nasser started to discuss the merger of their countries. On February 1st 1958 both countries finally united in some kind of marriage of convenience with Nasser as president and al-Kuwatli as vice-president. The United Arab Rebublic was born by the merger of both countries which abolished Syrian and Egyptian citizenships. From now on they would be Arabs and this should be the first step for the unification of all Arab countries. Egyptians needed Syrian help to avoid bankruptcy after the Suez Crisis and Syrians wanted an Egyptian open market (the biggest in the Middle East). However the United Arab Republic wasn’t as successful as expected and problems started. In Syria local opposition movements started to be persecuted and the local bourgeoisie didn’t reach the Egyptian market as they expected. There was also a growing feeling Egyptians were colonizing Syria and using their resources more to Egyptian interests than to common ones. Discontentment grew all over the United Arab Republic.

The end of UAR

In 1961 nationalist militaries made a coup in Syria. They promptly declared the independence of the country so as its withdraw from the United Arab Republic. In Egypt president Nasser saw his pan-arabist dream dieing this way and then became much depressive. Al-Kuwatli, as all other members of the government expected a hard reaction against the rebelled Syria but such didn’t happen. Also protests against the policies of the government arose all over Egypt but also the expected repression didn’t occur. Rumours of a possible return of the Khedive’s family to Egypt caused manifestations from monarchists and soon there were fights between nasserists and them. Few days later Nasser dismissed leaving the power to al-Kuwatli. The now acting president situation was at least uncomfortable. Several Syrian members of the government dismissed and al-Kuwatli hardly could have the obedience of the other Egyptian members. Al-Kuwatli was seen by them not as the acting president of the United Arab Republic but as a foreigner ruling over Egypt. The common people had same opinion. The government became inoperative and undecided now that they had lost the charismatic leader. There was a feeling of a coup d’etat coming soon. Al-Kuwatli couldn’t return to Syria because the new junta judged him ‘’in absentia’’ for high treason due to Syrian lose of independence in 1958 and convicted him to death. So as he wasn’t able to take real actions which probably would be simply disrespected by everyone. The Khedive’s family finally announced officially that wanted to return Egypt and this made things get worst. Violent street fights between nasserists and monarchists occurred in Cairo, Alexandria and Ismailia and the country was turning dangerously to a civil war. Foreign countries became worried as a civil war in Egypt could close the Suez Canal causing a major damage to their economical and political interests. The NAL GM Jowcko map Jowcko and his Foreign Secretary Edward Moore O'Kinneide seated both sides in conversations to avoid the worst scenery in Egypt. On monarchist side the Khedive’s family was represented by several conservative politicians and on nasserist side al-Kuwatli represented weakly the (more defunct than ever) UAR. The Khedive’s family was allowed to return and Said III was the best choice to new ruler of Egypt as the previous one, Said II, was still remembered for his terrible repression almost ten years ago. Also the nasserists shouldn’t be persecuted by the new power. On the day Said III arrived to Egypt from exile al-Kuwatli left once again for his exile. President Abdul Karim Qassim from Iraaq welcomed him with open arms. Al-Kuwatli left then active political life and spent the rest of his days writing his memories, uncompleted due to his death on the 30th June 1967 in Baghdaad.

Legacy

Shukri al-Kuwatli is often forgotten as one of the greatest arab leaders of the 20th century and remains shadowed by the charisma of Nasser so as stays almost unknown outside Arab world. His attempt of making a pan-arabist state was ahead in time and failed. But his greatest works were definitely his cause to leave Arab countries out of the Second Great war and joining all of those into an international organisation, the Arab Community, which still exists today.

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